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Become Their Eyes and Ears (And Other Ways to Lead Positive)

Lead Positive Profile Part 2: Career transition support pioneer Laura Herring

Laura Herring
Source: Laura Herring

Not only did Laura Herring found the premier career relocation and family transition firm in the United States, she practically invented the industry. How did she do that? She listened.

She listened to and answered her call to help others. As a psychologist, she listened to families as they discussed the unique pains that come with relocating for career advancement. And as the CEO of IMPACT Group, she became the ears (and eyes) of her clients so she could help them provide the much-needed support for their employees in transition.

This profile chronicles the second half of Laura’s heroic leadership journey to create a sustainable company that caters to the emotional and practical needs of relocating employees. For part 1 of my interview with Laura, click here.

The Journey

I want to talk to about The Journey, the longest of all the phases. We know from myths and legends that a journey can sometimes go on for decades. In your case, you retired about eight years ago. How long were you the leader of IMPACT Group? What was your tenure there?

I started it at 40 and left at 60. I would say there were so many different phases of that journey. The first phase was the excitement of getting the idea into a program that was physical that corporations could touch, see and feel. The next step was educating them as to the need for it, getting them to have an emotional connection to understand the need.

Then, the next step I think was just trying to get as many people as possible to create a critical mass that could say to each other, “Yes, I have that same issue. Yes, I’m using Impact Group, because they’re helping me. Yes, they are the best, because they deal with the emotional component of the family, not just the job search.” And that part was huge. So that first stage was really creating the product; trying to identify the buyer; and, three, trying to get it out to the masses as quickly as possible, because we were the number one company. This industry never existed before I came up with this idea and took it national.

The year I took it national—isn’t this interesting—two other females created companies within their local areas, and when they saw us go national, they chose to take theirs national. So we wound up having three, eventually four, competitors.

That’s one of the things that makes the adventure an adventure, right? It’s not all smooth sailing. How did you handle the competition? Talk a little bit about the competitor strategy that you had.

Well, our uniqueness was truly that we dealt with the emotional component by having masters or PhD-level counselors. We had counselors who would call up these families and if there was what is called “a non-job-seeking spouse”, which means they stayed at home with the children and were the head of the family in making sure this move took place, they would get one kind of a coach-counselor. Then, if there was a counselor for a job-seeking spouse, then we made sure they had certifications in career coaching as well. We led the pack in identifying the true needs—emotional and professional—of the different categories of families.

And guess what? There was also the single who had to relocate and leave their support system, all of their friends, all of their family. Johnson & Johnson was the first company to identify that group as having unique needs and they asked us to develop a program to meet their needs. As a result, we got a hundred percent of Johnson & Johnson’s relocations, because we could help the non-job-seeking spouse, the job-seeking spouse, and the single employee.

What my best client, Johnson & Johnson, would say is, “Laura, you listen.” We would hear things. We would bring them back to the Johnson & Johnson director of relocation and say, “They want this, they want that, they need this, they need that.” And, they said, “Okay, let’s give it to them,” because they really cared about their people.

When your client really gets it, you become their eyes and ears in the field, and then you help them create a product for their people. By doing that we were able to then take that product out to the rest of the world.

So you had cutting-edge clients, you had a cutting-edge differentiation, you had people copying you but you were ahead of the game in terms of your national focus, and in terms of providing the emotional support that would allow people to stay confident, optimistic, resilient.

And that’s what I’m most proud of in our organization is our people skills: Our people know how to hold hands across the phone lines and they know how to walk hand-in-hand with these families.

And, Kathy, if I had been smarter and knew algorithms I could’ve been the first Google. We had every phone book in the United States and if a family needed something special for their special needs kid, we would research it in the phone book, get five or six places, do all the calling for them, identify the pros and cons. We started writing summary reports of everything we recommended. We became a Google for them when they didn’t have Google.

[Once Google came around] some of the companies said, “Well, now there’s Google. We don’t need you.” And the spouses said, “Hell, no! It’s not the information that makes it special; it’s the time they save us. It’s the relationship we have with our coach. It’s the fact that they call us 10 to 20 times during a move to ask, ‘How are you doing? What do you need?’” The relationships that our counselors build with clients are a phenomenon to observe.

The Supreme Ordeal and Victory

Every heroic adventure has a Supreme Ordeal. What was yours?

Two automatically come to mind, but one of them also became the best thing that ever happened to us so I would never really classify it as an ordeal. But—

Now, I’ll tell you what: The Supreme Ordeal is always accompanied by a victory equal to the ordeal. So I think you can talk about whatever it is that felt like the worst thing and turned into the best thing.

All right. Towards the end of my tenure a client that we had for 20 years loved our relocation services and we became such good friends. They moved thousands of people of year and we would just be on it.

One day I got a call and they said, “Laura, pack a bag. You’ll probably be here three days. We have to create a new program.” And so I did. You don’t say no to a client that wonderful. They said, “What we’re about to tell you is confidential, but we are going to lay off 40,000 people and we want you to be the outplacement provider for these people, because you have created soft landings for all of our relocating families and they love you and appreciate you. We would very, very much like for you to create a soft landing. So, let’s start thinking.”

They were a United Auto Workers Union group and most of these people were 50 or 60. I said, “They’re not going to be able to find another UAW company to go work for. We’re going to have to help them transition in their career. We’re going to need some bridge loans because it’s going to take them six months to two years to get retraining. We need to make sure that there are trade schools that they can sign up for, etcetera, etcetera.”

We just started brainstorming every resource they needed and they said, “Yep, that looks good. Now implement it. And implement it in 11 different cities simultaneously and implement them twice.” So we asked, “Okay, what are the dates?” They said, “Oh, we can’t tell you until six weeks before it’s going to happen, because it will leak out.”

Well, have you ever had to plan for 40,000 people getting help in 11 different cities simultaneously and then do the exact same thing two weeks later? We called it the road show. We wound up quickly hiring 300 more coaches. We spent two to three months coaching them on what they would need to do. We tried to make them see it through the eyes of a union worker, as opposed to a corporate executive or corporate manager. And, darn, if they didn’t go a great job.

We got 20 trade groups, trade schools; we got community colleges; we got insurance companies; we got banks and loans and community organizations involved. We had 20 vendors there that had to be found in each of those 11 cities. This was massive. Massive! And because I knew we needed clockwork precision I hired two very experienced-- significantly project managers who not only knew how to manage projects, but had the technology skillsets to make this happen. So we did it. We pulled it off.

In fact, they loved us so much they asked, “Laura, we don’t want to deal with the press. In each city will you go around and be our spokesperson for the press?” So I would talk about the safe landing we were providing for them. I explained that the auto company really cared about their employees and so they asked us to build the best possible program. I described the program and I said, “We’re going to make sure that things go right.”

Some people would say, “That was a good problem to have, Laura,” and you were able to deal with the complexity. You were able to keep your eye on the prize, which is really the soft landing, the feeling of support and the meeting of the basic needs as well as other very important needs like esteem and self-respect, which are always a big issue when somebody is being downsized out of a job.

The amazing thing is this company got a 97 percent satisfaction rate for our program. When you consider they [the people being laid off] could have yelled, screamed—we could have been failures because they were so hurt and so devastated. But my people made sure to make them feel so special that it was a success, a huge success.

The Return Home

The final stage of every great myth and of every great leadership experience is The Return Home. The leader returns home with prizes that were anticipated and also unanticipated and lessons learned. Is there anything that has happened for you personally, for the Impact Group, for clients, that just makes this whole effort not only worthwhile, but completely rewarding?

First of all, the biggest reward was that my daughter Lauren was not only willing to take over the company when we were ready to retire, but she was extremely capable having received her MBA from Washington University and literally having grown up with the company. Her first job was making mimeograph copies and transparencies at seven years old!

She then became an account manager then a marketing manager. And she just took on the presidency as we started to move out. That was a huge gift, knowing we were leaving the company in responsible hands was huge.

Also, employees always would love to have more, but we gave good bonuses that year after we had that wonderful success story with the automobile company. And we were a stable company. They knew they would have a job for the next 20 years.

The success of that one company’s trust in us gave us a financial foundation that would allow them to continue to work, which is something we always have to remind people. In an entrepreneurial company there’s not always profit for just the owner. The employees get the benefit and the profit of having a long-term commitment from the owners to the people for the company.

I think the greatest gift is that we were able to set up an IMPACT group charitable foundation. We have been funding education for women and children, primarily, and handicapped children and women who are having very difficult times in their lives transitioning from either abuse or alcohol or drug or prison. We made sure to help Connections For Success* not only financially, but we have our career coaches work with these women till they find a job. In the eight years we’ve been working with them they have had an eighty-eight percent success rate of their people not going back to jail or prison or drugs. So, we see some wonderful things.

*Connections to Success is a nonprofit organization whose mission is to inspire individuals to realize their dreams and achieve economic independence by providing hope, resources and a plan.

Lauren and I are also involved in Prosper, which helps young women entrepreneurs get started because I didn’t have any financial help when I got started. So Lauren and I and [my husband] Mike all give back from the charitable trust because we believe in giving everyone an uplifting hand.

I didn’t have many helping hands at the time I was starting out. But then once I started, this employee here, that corporation there, they started lifting us up in ways that I never knew existed.

These are things you never could have predicted. This is important for all of us who are leading and trying to make something important happen, whether we’re inside a company, an entrepreneur, in a not-for-profit organization, there are certain things we can predict, but there are many things that we can’t. And look at what you’ve been able to do with the windfalls. You’ve been able to create a sustainable organization where your employees know they have a place to work for the rest of their careers.

You’re able to be philanthropic in ways that you never would have been had it not been for that best and worst occurrence. I really want to applaud you and recognize the way in which you stay engaged. It’s never over. It’s always moving forward and you are as engaged as you’ve always been, just in different ways, like right now with your book, No Fear Allowed: A Story of Guts, Perseverance, & Making an Impact.

My book is really my legacy to breast cancer research. Because too many of my friends have breast cancer—I’ve had it twice—and I am determined that we find a cure. I am hoping that through the use of my book corporations will donate significant amounts to No Fear Allowed Foundation, which gives one hundred percent to breast cancer research.

I ask myself every day, “How many more phone calls can I make and ask for $50,000- $100,000 dollars from corporate leaders? I tell them, ‘One out of twelve of your employees will have breast cancer. Help me find a cure and I’ll come in, give you a hundred books and I’ll come in and do a half-day No Fear Allowed In Business and In Life seminar.”

So, that’s what my next hero’s journey’s going to be: Reaching out to the corporate world and, of course, individuals and try to use my book as a vehicle to say, “Anyone can achieve what they want to achieve.” They just have to persevere and not allow other people’s not getting things keep you from truly achieving your passion and your purpose.

***********************

Laura Herring is a pioneer in career/life transition support, psychologist. Celebrating 27 years this year, IMPACT Group is the leader in the Relocation Family Transition space and a thought leader in the human resource consulting space with solutions delivered by dedicated, expert career consultants paired with next generation technology. People who meet Laura know she is fearless: She will do anything to help others become all that they can be! Follow Laura on Twitter @lauranofear.

Dr. Kathy Cramer has written seven best-selling books including Change The Way You See Everything, which started the ABT Global Movement. Her latest book, Lead Positive shows leaders how to increase their effectiveness through her revolutionary yet refreshing simple mindset management process, Asset-Based Thinking. Download her Speaker Kit here.

To read more of Kathy’s thought leadership, visit drkathycramer.com/watch-listen-read. Follow Kathy on Twitter at @drkathycramer.

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